April 27, 2015

Saint Symeon the Brother of God as a Model for our Lives

St. Symeon the Brother of God (Feast Day - April 27)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Symeon was one of the four sons of Joseph, the betrothed of the Most Holy Theotokos, which he acquired from his first wife. The other three were James the first hierarch of Jerusalem, Joses and Judas. He was also called Simon, which is a diminutive of the name Symeon, just like the Apostle Peter in the beginning of his Catholic Epistle is called Symeon (Acts 15:14; 2 Peter 1:1).

He became the second Bishop of Jerusalem after his brother James. He pastored his flock in a manner pleasing to God for more than twenty years, with much toil and sweat, and he led many Greeks and Jews who were in error to the knowledge of God. Having suffered much for the faith, he was perfected by martyrdom. He was crucified like his brother yet Lord and Teacher Jesus Christ in 98 A.D., at the age of one hundred and twenty years. In his iambic verses we read the following: "As a brother of the Lord, Symeon, you suffered, as a brother of the Lord you hung on the wood."

The God-pleasing life and crucifixion death of Symeon give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

First, by the disobedience of the first-formed Adam we lost paradise. By the obedience of the new Adam, Christ, we gained the opportunity to become citizens of it again. We were exiled from paradise by wood, and again by wood we entered it again, namely the wood of the Cross of Christ. "The Cross is the mystery of the love of God and the abolition of sin" (St. Gregory Palamas). Through the Cross death was abolished, Hades was trampled, paradise was once again opened, and the human race was given the possibility of communion with God through repentance. The genuine disciples of the Lord daily crucify their flesh, namely their carnal mind which gives birth to death, putting to death sin in order to live the true life, the communion with God. Through the sacramental life and asceticism they try to heal the powers of the soul, namely the incensive, the desiring and the reasonable or intelligent, to turn them towards the right direction, from an unnatural path to a natural path. The incensive part of the soul is healed through philanthropy and love, the desiring part is healed through fasting and abstinence, and the reasonable part is healed through reading and prayer; then the nous is illumined and reaches the vision of God. As Saint Maximus the Confessor writes: "The incensive part of the soul is restrained by love, the desiring is withered by temperance, and the intelligent is given wings by prayer. Thus the light of the nous is never darkened."

Obedience to the will of God, patience during temptations and the troubles of life, the struggle for the transformation of the passions, is how we voluntarily lift our cross, and this leads to our overcoming death and the experience of eternal divine life. Walking with and being crucified with Christ is the only path that leads to the experience of our personal Pascha: In tasting the sweetness of the presence of the Risen Christ, "in the breaking of the bread" of the Divine Eucharist, by eating and drinking His Body and Blood, of course with the necessary preconditions.

Second, the saints experience the eschaton, namely the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, in this life. By experiencing the mystery of the Cross they purified the optical part of the soul and they see God. They conquered death in the limits of their personal lives and acquired perfect love. This is why at the time of their departure from this life they do not have the slightest fear, but are full of spiritual bliss and "they do not enter into judgement, but they go from death to life" (1 Thess. 4:17). By their way of life they have already been judged, and at the second coming of Christ they will stand next to His Throne. "Those who have acquired the perfection of love for God and raised up their soul by the virtues, will be taken up into the clouds, according to the Apostle, and will not incur judgement" (St. Maximus the Confessor). At the hour of death "the soul that feels spiritual bliss with the love of God goes above all the dark array together with the angels, flying with the wings of spiritual love, since they have no void in the fulfillment of the law, which is love. This is why at the coming of the Lord, they will be taken up with the saints all those who have ended this life with such boldness, while those who even flinch a little at the time of death, will be left with the number of other people, as if in custody, to be tested by the fire of judgement" (St. Diadochos of Photiki).

The Cross and the Resurrection of Christ are undeniable historical events, as is simultaneously the way of life of the saints, who were crucified and resurrected with Him. Because they endure without complaint daily tribulations, and in temptations they glorify God, this is why they taste of the comfort of Divine Grace, and the unspeakable joy of the Resurrection.

Those who willingly bear without complaint the "light burden" of Christ, they will truly enjoy their lives, because they taste of authentic Life, which springs out of the Life-bearing Tomb and kills death.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἅγιος Συμεὼν ὁ Ἀδελφόθεος", April 2004. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.